Zac Weisz discusses the case for closing down zoos
When I cycled past the giraffes of London Zoo during my government-mandated daily exercise last Friday, I felt a new level of empathy for these mammals, with their absurd necks. Locked away in their cage, their movement is limited, likewise their company. They aren’t even afforded a single hour to roam around the streets. And this is giraffes we’re talking about; imagine being a big cat and told you can only roam around the space the size of court number two at Wimbledon. It’s bigger than most London flats, but it’s not exactly the Okavango Delta.
Perhaps it’s the terrible tales of Joe Exotic, detailed in the hit show Tiger King, that have triggered my thinking. It’s high time that we raise the issue of the existence of zoos in the UK.
Public relations for the animal kingdom are currently mixed: they transmitted coronavirus to us, albeit in a market rather than at a zoo; on the other hand, we probably feel great empathy towards the plight of caged animals held in a confined space. I dare say that we have never identified more with their struggle.
There are currently 48 zoos in the United Kingdom. Beautiful though they may be, highlighted by those in Chester, Whipsnade and Edinburgh, they are cruel. Can we really justify quashing these animals’ instincts throughout their lifetime by detaining them? Most of us are struggling to do it for just a few months!
Let’s be clear, zoos have many positives. They allow for research such that zoologists can help those animals who still live in the wild. They provide a great day of entertainment for children. Many are registered charities, so don’t merely exist for profit. And, through their education systems, they can help to inform visitors and the wider public of the biggest issues facing the animal kingdom.
However, we can achieve these benefits elsewhere. We can educate children about animals in schools. Parents can think of other places to go with their kids for the day. Researchers can travel to study these incredible creatures in their natural habitat, or else focus on wild specimen in the more immediate vicinity. The incarcerated animals don’t have such options. Now that we share their plight, I hope we recognise that it’s time to shut down zoos.